PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Translator: Mike Mitchell Cover illustration: Claudia Andrei
Being the diverting, amusing and truly hilarious account of the strange life of a once lively, experienced and brave soldier, now, however, a wizened, decrepit but exceedingly cunning vagrant and beggar and his amazing magic book.Conceived and set down at the request of the celebrated Simplicissimus by Philarchus Grossus von Tromerheim.
Printed in Paphlagonia by Felix Stratiot, 1670.
A situation the author found hard to swallow and which eventual led to him writing this book.
Last Christmas I was in a noble lord's courtyard waiting patiently, if in a most ill humour, for a reply to a request I had submitted for a position as secretary. In this extremely persuasive petition I had most humbly begged to be allowed to bring my great industry to his lordship's notice and assured him of my constant and incomparable loyalty, yet with no sign so far of the desired result. I became even more impatient, especially when I saw how the grubby scullions and the stinking stable lads were given due respect, while I was looked down on like a thoroughly bad egg, not even worth tasting. All sorts of things occurred to me then, all kinds of strange ideas. From the scornful looks of the
abovementioned boys I was sure they would eventually start jeering and poking fun at me if I didn't soon get the right answer to my
request, or take myself off without one. At other times, though, I managed to persuade myself things would turn out for the best.
'Patience, patience,' I said to myself, 'all things wait for him who comes.'
(I was so confused I was getting everything back to front.)
'When you get the job you can pay this riffraff back for the disdain they've shown.'
But I was tormented not only mentally by these doubts, but physically by the bitter cold. Anyone who had seen me without feeling the cold himself would have sworn blind I was suffering from the ague or quartan fever. The servants ran hither and thither without paying much attention or speaking to me. During one of my optimistic periods, when I was comforting myself with hope, I noticed a delightful lady's maid who immediately captured my heart. She was coming straight towards me and I took that as a certain omen I was to be her lover. My heart jumped for joy as I deluded myself into thinking here was my future happiness. When she came up to me and opened her cherry lips, what she said was,
'What are you doing here, my friend? Are you perhaps a poor student looking charity?'
At these words I thought,
'There go all your hopes crashing to the ground.'
We clerks have as arrogant - arrogant? What am I saying? I mean as grandiose an opinion of ourselves as tailors, who start off by fawning on great lords when they are their manservants, before eventually becoming their lords - oh, you can tell how confused I was, getting everything mixed up like this. What great lord would let either a clerk or a tailor lord it over him? Of course what I
meant to say was, when they've fleeced their lords of enough to live like a lord. Anyway, I felt the young woman should have taken account of my own estimation of myself and addressed me thus:
'What is your desire, honourable sir?' or:
'What affairs bring your honour here?'
But why go on about it? Put out though I was, I could not accuse the girl of impertinence since she had asked her question politely. Nor could I scrape together enough words from the stock in my armoury to make an adequate riposte to this first blow, which stuck me harder than a box on the ears. Eventually, my
voice quivering with fear, hope and cold, I managed to stammer out words to the effect that I was the gentleman who had come with a
recommendation from respectable people, hoping to be made her lord's secretary.
'Oh good Lord!' the little vixen cried, 'So that's who you are! Well you can put that idea right out of your mind. Anyone who wants that position will have to deposit a thousand thalers with his Lordship or find people to stand surety for that sum. Three days ago I was given half an imperial thaler to pass on to you when you arrived and our useless servants didn't even tell me you were here, otherwise I wouldn't have kept you waiting so long in this cold.'
You can imagine the look on my face.
'Sending Venus to do Vulcan's work,' I thought to myself.
I didn't really want to take the half thaler. It went against the grain because I imagined such treatment was demeaning to my status
as a clerk. But I told myself,
'Who knows, there may be other things this lord can do for you,' and shoved it into my bag, hoping with time and patience I might still get the position, which I would lose, along with the lord's favour, if I was pig-headed enough to reject this pittance.So I took my leave and the maid herself accompanied me to the gate since, it being close on lunchtime, she was going to shut it anyway. There I thanked her again for the half thaler and in the ensuing chitchat she happened to say,
'You need have no qualms about taking it. My master and mistress leave no service unrewarded, even if it's only lighting their way to the privy.'
This so infuriated me that my reply was impudent rather than prudent.
'You'd better tell your lord and master,' I said, 'that if he pays as much for every piece of paper he uses to wipe his arse on as he did for my petition, which he never even read, then he's likely to be short of money before I run out of pens, ink and paper.'
With that I took myself off, almost beside myself with rage. I felt no gratitude at all to those who had taught me my letters, indeed I regretted not having stuck my backside in their faces on the few occasions when they gave me six of the best.
'Oh why,' I said to myself, 'didn't your parents make you learn a trade, or threshing, straw-cutting, something like that? Then you'd
get work with any farmer and not have to spend your time standing outside great lords' residences to flatter them. Even if it were
the least regarded trade you'd learnt, there'd be craftsmen who,though they had no work for you, would give a travelling journeyman
lodgings and something to help him on his way. But in your profession there's no one to give you a helping hand and you're looked down upon as the worst kind of layabout.'
I walked for quite a distance, giving vent to my fury, but as my anger subsided, I started to feel the harsh cold more and more. It
was so bitter, I longed for a warm room, and as I happened to be passing an inn, I went in, more for the warmth than to quench my thirst.
No. of pages: 168
Publication date: 26.03.2003
978 1 903517 18 5
978 1 909232 67 9
World English Language in the Translation